So in my last post, I talked a bit about our Korean trip. Continuing the post this week. Word of warning: This post will be dedicated to my favorite travel activity- Shopping.
I know I said I’m kuripot, but you have to understand something else about me: In as much as I got my dad’s stingy, practical genes, my mom’s shopaholic blood runs thick through these veins. So I can go through loooong periods of not getting crap. But once I decide to spend, that’s it: Unleash the Krakken!
The fate of my wallet has been pretty much decided the minute I said yes to Korea.
It doesn’t help that Moe and I have the same traveling vice: We are perfectly fine eating in 7-11 if it means having enough money to buy stuff for ourselves and for pasalubong (I may be a shopaholic, but a very magnanimous one).
So anyway, foodies, you can stop reading now. I have nothing for you. Shopaholics, welcome. This is a safe zone for us. You will not be judged here.
LOTTE DEPARTMENT STORE AND BEAN POLE
Lotte, is a chain of premium malls in Korea. One branch was right across our hotel so we decided to check it out.
Moe needed to buy clothes for the office because their firm decided to implement “Stylish Fridays” instead of the usual “Casual Fridays” (not making this up, swear). We just came from Subic where pambahay and gimik clothes were interchangeable. He had nothing!
I decided to do a bit of googling for men’s apparel before we ventured out.
I zeroed in on Beanpole: Style-wise, it was described by some articles as Korea’s version of Ralph Lauren. This was perfect, because I cannot imagine Moe in edgy street wear.
So anyway, we found a Beanpole store in the men’s section of Lotte World. He ended up buying 3 pairs of pants and a short-sleeved (printed!!) button-down shirt, a tie, a belt and one of those lapel pins that he likes wearing with his suits. (Gotta represent during Fashion Fridays!)
The only downside was, we had to contend with a dour -faced sales person who would snicker at Moe every time he asked for a bigger size. The other sales person was not exactly brimming with good cheer, but he was polite and pretty accommodating. Dour-faced boy though was a trip! I would have walked out there in a huff if their clothes weren’t so nice.
Dour faced-boy wasn’t our only weird shopping encounter in Korea.
When we did a city tour the day before, we found ourselves in Bukchon village. It’s an area filled with beautiful, traditional houses which, according to our guide, housed the old rich of Korea.
On our shopping day, Moe and I decided to go back because the area also had a lot of small, interesting-looking shops.
But yes, we realized soon enough that it was a classy neighborhood. We saw a bunch of well-dressed, gorgeous ladies toting around their LV’s while wearing their chic-yes-I-look-elegant-even-when I’m running errands clothes.
I, in contrast, looked like a hobo . Not only was I wearing ill-fitting cropped pants that I impulsively bought from a legit Korean palengke (I realized in panic that it was too hot to go around in jeans), but I had paired it with my rubber shoes for maximum comfort. The entire ensemble elegantly highlighted my cankles. My hair was also a mess, I had zero makeup on and I was sweating profusely because of the heat.
But I’m nothing if not makapal. Undaunted by my state of kadugyutan, I went inside the boutiques with as much aplomb as I would if I was all decked out in Prada.
I had the strangest experiences though – one shop made me put on some transparent cloth sack over my head before trying on her clothes. (I later found that this was quite common in Korean stores because they wanted to prevent makeup staining their clothes. BUT like I mentioned previously, I had zero makeup on- so I suspect she took one look at my oily, grubby face and decided that it was more formidable than makeup stains.) But since she was really, really sweet about it, I had no problems complying.
The other shop I visited however, made me feel like a broke back Julia Roberts circa Pretty Woman.
The proprietress gave me a head to toe the minute I came in. And when I wanted to try on her clothes, she gave me another once-over, said something in Korean to her mom, and pointed out the dressing room. She then gingerly handed me a small towel and made me wipe my armpits!
I sheepishly complied, but her snooty manner did not win her any brownie points in my book – I wanted to max out my credit cards to show them the strength of my social climbing wrath. But (deep breath) I showed restraint and walked out the store without so much as a backward glance to the gorgeous structured top that I tried on.
Luckily, the Bukchon shopping trip was not in vain. I did end up buying something in one of the shops I visited. (Unfortunately, I am a space cadet, so I did not bother to take note of the store. I did find a picture of it online though.)
The store interiors were modern and edgy- my middle-aged sensibilities felt instantly hip the minute I came in. While I was going through the racks, I noticed that they carried some Western designer brands like Vivienne Westwood.
The proprietress was quite gracious. If she noticed my kadugyutan – she politely kept it to herself.
I ended up getting this really pretty, slightly whimsical but structured dress that made me feel like Alice in Wonderland going to a business meeting. Shopping urge temporarily satisfied.
Gugus is a chain that sells second-hand designer bags. As luck would have it, they had a store two shops away from our hotel! I was naturally ecstatic. Bags are my kryptonite. I can go around and not buy clothes and dress like a hobo – but I need pretty purses in my life.
I had also very recently discovered the joys of shopping preloved when we went to Japan. Not only do you get the same brands for a fraction of the cost (which kinda appeases my guilty, kuripot conscience), but you also can get your hands on gorgeous pieces that you don’t find in their retail stores anymore. Plus, it’s my weird way of being green. (I know, the green thing to do is to use bags made of refurbished rags- but I’m not that evolved yet. It somewhat comforts me to know though, that no NEW animal had to sacrifice its life so I could accessorize properly.)
So anyway- Gugus. I saw this store the day we arrived in Korea. But every day I would forlornly peek through their windows and they never opened shop. Finally, the shopping angels heeded my cries of despair- on the 3rd night, we chanced upon it open!
Not only that, but they had the EXACT (down to the color) bag that I wanted. AND it was 20% off the market price. DANCE OF JOY!! 1st day of shopping was a rousing success.
Dongdaenum Design Plaza is a huge, Jetsons-looking, Instagram-friendly complex that houses 5 main halls: Art Hall Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park.
Since we only had a part of the morning though, we made a beeline for the Design Market where they showcase a lot of creative products from young designers.
They had everything! Different vendors would sell regular-sized duffel bags that could carry 40kg worth of clothes, water-proof eco bags made entirely of recycled paper, hand-crafted ergonomically sound furniture, soup bowls that could be folded and stacked on top of each other to save space – just sh*t that you don’t think you need but you actually do!
Moe ended up buying this interesting-looking storm-proof umbrella (which he promptly lost the first time he used it in Manila. I was so mad) and I went nuts over this store that sold Little Prince trinkets.
I wanted to check out every single booth, but I had already spent a good portion of the morning obsessing over pasalubong so before I knew it, we needed to head out.
Gangnam, is THE place to be in Korea. It’s where their young, rich and hip hang out. It’s also where you could spot the “it” actors chillin’ and having lattes on a lazy Sunday. We were honestly way past our young, hip stage and were not quite in our rich stage just yet, so we were thinking of passing this up. But my friend Boo insisted that you cannot visit Seoul without at least going to Gangnam, so we randomly picked Apgujeong Rodeo just because it sounded vaguely familiar.
The only problem was, it apparently turns into a ghost town on Sundays- most of the shops were closed and there was hardly anyone there.
Moe and I decided to go around anyway, wistfully looking at all the local boutiques and all the vintage stores. (More BAGS!) They were some shops open, so we went to check out as many as we could.
Shopping in Gangnam was worlds apart from my experience in Bokchon – all the shop owners were just unbelievably sweet and accommodating. Nobody even asked me to put a cloth over my head nor wipe my armpits! In fact, they were so nice, that I had a hard time saying no.
Case in point: One of the first shops we visited was manned by this gorgeous woman who tried to chat us up despite the language barrier. She handed us a brochure, and kept on repeating the word “actress” as she pointed to herself. We weren’t sure if she was saying, she was an actress, or if she was trying convey that she dressed a famous actress. None of it mattered though, because I loved everything in her store; everything was pretty and feminine and intricate.
I was especially attracted to this tiered tulle skirt in pale pink. I’ve always wanted a tulle skirt – but my go-to designer has pointed out, on several occasions, albeit very tactfully, that it wasn’t a good look for my child-bearing hips.
Nonetheless, I stubbornly wanted one.
“How much?” I offhandedly asked as I browsed through more stuff to try on. She casually pointed to the tag, and answered “28 million won.” Because I’m bad at math, the absurdity of the figure didn’t register until Moe urgently informed me, “Pi, that’s 1.2 million pesos!”
And so, without any finesse whatsoever, I promptly handed the pretty skirt back, thanked the owner and left the store. She looked so perplexed, and even slightly hurt so I was actually tempted to let go of our renovation budget so I could make her happy.
The next store showcased more reasonably-priced pieces (meaning buying their clothes will not force us to take a second mortgage on our house).
The proprietress pointed out some pictures of her clients, and, judging from the self-assured, smartly dressed women in the photos, I got the impression that her clientele were the power women of Korea.
A power woman I definitely am not, so I immediately knew that her clothes would not be my style.
Don’t get me wrong, her pieces were awesome – most of them were tailored, structured and fab – but just as I suspected, they made me look like a tween playing dress-up.
Still, she was earnestly looking at me and clapping delightedly every time I got out of the dressing room. A proper adult would have just declined politely and would have headed out of the store with dignity; instead, I begged Moe to pretend he did not approve of any of the outfits so I had an easy way out. (You don’t understand, an elegant, middle-aged woman in sky high heels was dragging big boxes of clothes because she was determined to find something for me. It was super difficult to say no.)
Like the Goldilocks and the 3 bears, the third place that we visited was a charm. (As usual, I did not take a picture of the store. I also couldn’t find it on the internet. Bad blogger! I’m almost sure it’s in this “Hello Highness” area though.)
The store was owned by this stylish, woman in her 30’s who was decked out in age-appropriate street wear.
They had a lot of pieces that were also streamlined but were more laid, back, fuss-free and easy.
I grabbed a few pants from her racks and they all fit perfectly! (You have no idea how much joy that brings me. Not only am I short, but I have huge hips. So all the bottoms that I buy usually require major alterations.) They were like magic. One pair that I tried on were these linen pants that were similar to the one the proprietress was wearing. She had the proportions of a model, and they naturally looked amazing on her. I was expecting them to make me look, well, stumpy. But lo and behold! They looked great on me too! And I didn’t even need to alter the length! The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is not a myth guys- they probably imported those jeans from Gangnam!
So anyway, I bought 3 pairs of pants and a simple, cropped top. My new outfits gave the oh-I-randomly-put-this-outfit-together-with-minimal-effort-but-I-look-chic-anyway vibe. It was perfect for my pseudo-housewife/writer purposes.
Needless to say, despite the limited shops available on a Sunday, I came out of Gangnam well-pleased and happy.
Overall, the shopping experience in Korea was awesome. There were snooty sales people, yes. But the really nice ones, not to mention the wonderful stuff we ended up getting, more than made up for it.
Disclaimer though: Everything was quite pricey. Definitely not for bargain hunters.
The thing is, my shopping philosophy has changed over the years. My kuripot genes set in in my thirties- so I don’t shop as rabidly as I used to in my twenties. When I do however, I like splurging on nice quality items. I realized that I would rather have a handful of nicely made pieces that I could last me for years rather than a closet brimming with trendy inexpensive items that have the shelf-life of a season.
Age may come with the buying power to splurge, but it also comes with the self-control and wisdom to discern and edit.